The Fall of Humanity: Weakness of the Will and Moral Responsibility in the Later Augustine

Augustine of Hippo is often regarded as the champion of the doctrine of weakness of the will. John M. Rist in his 1994 'Augustine: Ancient Thought Baptized' draws an interesting analogy between Aristotle's 'akrasia' and Augustine's 'concupiscentia'. However, such an analogy without further qualification is defective and misleading because it implies that Augustine commits himself to the notion that since everyone is perpetually akratic and, thus, always morally blameworthy. I argue that, for Augustine, weakness of the will has equivocal meanings and is manifested in four kinds of case--their scope goes far beyond Aristotle's discussion of 'akrasia' in Book Seven of the 'Nicomachean Ethics'. There are, therefore, considerable differences between Aristotle's and Augustine's account of weakness of the will. Consequently, for Augustine, moral responsibility for the moral agent also varies in each of the four cases.
Keywords Augustine  Aristotle  Akrasia  Weakness of the will  Concupiscence  Sexual Desire  Moral responsibility  Ethics  Medieval Philosophy
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DOI 10.1017/S1057060800091040
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